Place your thumb over the young girl’s yellow hat. How does the image change? Is it clear that the four patches of white paint are a billowing dress? Is the curvilinear, blue shape an arm reaching through the air? This painting by Félix Vallotton includes just the amount of detail necessary to describe a moment in time. If more detail were omitted, the image would not be clearly representational. Vallotton was greatly influenced by Gauguin. Like Gauguin, Vallotton painted large patches of saturated color. In this painting, large areas of color represent the grass, trees, dirt and shadow. Applying paint in this way tends to flatten the space within a painting. Is it clear how far the viewer is from the little girl? How far away are the adults in the background? The space in this painting is collapsed.
Vallotton was a member of the Nabis, a secret organization founded by a group of Parisian artists in the final years of the nineteenth century. Nabi artists were interested in depicting light, shadow, and specific moments in time. In this way the Nabis were a product of Impressionism. Yet the Nabis created art that was far more abstract than their Post-Impressionist contemporaries. Maurice Denis, a Nabi artist and friend of Vallotton, once famously said, “A picture—before being a warhorse, a female nude, or some anecdote—is essentially a flat surface covered with colors in a particular order.”1 The Nabis recognized the power and beauty of abstraction. The subtle abstraction created by Nabi artists paved the way for the popularization of non-representational art in the twentieth century.
1Janson, H. W., Penelope Davies, Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition. Vol. 11. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007), 919.